‘I Still Love My Beard’

By David R. Wheeler, Editor

Most kids in my class got chicken pox in early elementary school.

Me: I was 17. A senior in high school. You know, ALWAYS gotta be different…

As long as I had the red dots all over my face, I couldn’t shave. Too dangerous. The result? An unintentional beard. Yep, I could grow a beard at 17. Even my dad was jealous.

But this was 1994, and most beards were still relegated to two major categories: the “Menacing Mountain Man” and “George Michael Stubble.”

Oh, and maybe the “Aging Hippie Steven Keaton” (the dad from Family Ties).

None of those beards were in style at the time.

However, in ‘94, goatees were extremely fashionable. They were “all that and a bag of chips,” as we used to say at the time.

What? You didn’t say that phrase in the ‘90s? Come on. Yeah you did.

All the cool people had goatees. The Beastie Boys, my heroes from fourth grade to senior year of high school (from Licensed to Ill through Ill Communication), were sporting goatees. A good-looking girl even complimented me. “Cool goatee,” she said.

“I love you,” I replied. Not really. I didn’t say that. I thought it, but I didn’t say it.

Two years later, in 1996, my sophomore year in college, I woke up one day with a realization: The goatee is over. Sure, people were still wearing them. Nobody was making fun of people who had them. But my 19-year-old self somehow knew that the goatee era was gone.

It’s like how 19-year-olds have a supernatural sense about how a certain trend is over.

In 2005, in my late 20s, I had a similar urge, the origin of which is still unknown: It’s time to grow a beard. Maybe it was my own version of a biological clock saying to me, “You’re not a kid anymore. You’re a man now. Grow a beard.”

Or maybe it was because, at the time, when I taught classes, I was still being mistaken for a student.

In any case, I’ve kept the beard for 12 years now.

Twelve years.

Uh-oh.

Why did I suddenly know to shave my goatee after two years? Answer: Because I was 19. Why have I kept my beard for 12 years? Answer: Because I’m not 19 anymore.

When I look around, I suddenly see decidedly un-cool people with beards. Paul Ryan, for example, wore one for a while. When politicians start sporting a certain style, you know it’s not cool anymore.

Oprah said it best: You get stuck in the decade when you think you looked your best. There’s no way beards can still be in style after 12 years.

But I love my beard, and I don’t want to live without it.

Trend-setters: Please give me a little more time. Just enough time to say goodbye.

David R. Wheeler, Editor of AliveTampaBay, is a journalism professor at The University of Tampa. As both a journalist and an academic, David enjoys writing about culture, politics, and technology for some of the nation’s most high-profile news outlets, including CNN and The Atlantic. His Atlantic article “Do Students Still Have Free Speech in School?” is required reading in a course at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.

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